Monday, November 25, 2013

3 days in Porto

Boa noite, from the Gallery Hostel, Porto! Kudos to this place--it's among the absolute best.

High ceilings with those lovely, tall French doors and curlycue transom windows. Rich, wide-plank wood flooring, thick granite walls, iron railings and azulejos leading to the winter garden, a bar, library, and a media room: charm and social space combine to make hanging out as enticing as going out. The entire place is impeccably clean--I didn't even wear my shower-havaianas! The staff is fantastic and so is their cooking.

[Two interjections: a) the men can seriously cook, which I adore. b) I ate Bacalhau Generoso (codfish casserole) and liked it. Impressive, since I don't really like any cooked fish!]

They take turns preparing meals for whoever is game to join in: 10 euro covers the meal and wine, the fun conversation is free. It is well-located in the art district, within walking distance to everything in the old city center. In fact, Gallery's Paula gave Roberto, Marianna and I our bearings with a 90 minute walking tour on Saturday morning.


Yes, that Marianna and Roberto. I last saw them in Dublin in January 2012. They live in London now and are always off on envy-inducing adventures. (Just two weeks ago they each completed their first marathon--in Athens, 'cuz that's how they roll.) So when I said I was heading to Portugal, they bought tickets to come meet me for the weekend. So cool.

I adore hanging out with them. We strolled around, sharing occasional awe and frequent chuckles. Honestly there are few people I would travel with--but the three of us had great synergy (as ever). We ambled over to the teleférico in Gaia (Porto's rival across the river [which makes me laugh]), swooped down to the riverfront and found Paula's recommended lunch spot, São Gonçalo, for a francesinha. Obrigada pela indicação, Paula!

We headed to Ferreira Cellars for a tour and crash course in Port, followed by a tasting.

Livraria Lello & Irmão (the inspiration for Hogwart's staircase) was interesting...ish. Well, it is quite a nice staircase. As a bookstore, it's got nothin' on Livraria Cultura.

And for once, and only once, Roberto and Mari could witness me cheering for Blue, while we watched FC Porto take on Nacional in Estádio do Dragão. (You may recall from that one Pancake Birthday that our friendship is in spite of our opposing passions: I'm Inter red, they're Grêmio blue.) It was chilly and the play was kinda uninspired--but we were sharing a game together again nevertheless.

Afterward we had our second francesinhas of the day--not, actually, advisable since they are quite rich! Back at the hostel we stayed up until almost-sunrise, catching up.

The floors in the rooms are really creaky, so I was that girl (the last to come home who wakes everyone up), despite my best attempts to sssshhhh.

On Sunday we just wandered. I ate a rat. (Relax. It was chocolate.)

Soon we agreed that the best course of action was to drink beer in the warm sunshine at a riverside café next to Ponte Dom Luís, until they caught the metro to the airport. We have this travel-life down to a science.

And then there was one. And Australian Clair, and French-Canadian Etienne, and a gaggle of Dutch guys and our new Portuguese friends.

Other Porto highlights:

What Livraria Lello was not,  A Vida Portuguesa was. Great art nouveau building. Gorgeous inside and out. Well worth a peek.

Interestingly, so was the McDonald's on Avenida dos Aliados.

The São Bento train station was reportedly ranks loveliest by Travel & Leisure magazine. It's certainly worth the visit.

Today was sunny and warm. I went to the seaside neighborhood Foz, to get some ocean air and grilled octopus. Both delightful.

[Sept 2014 Addendum: Exactly 6 weeks after these photos were snapped, this made international news. Nutty!]

Tomorrow: Lisboa (Lisbon).

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